Capital News from the Low Countries

What from a distance may look like a pasture, perhaps with oddly shaped poppies or some other flowers on the foreground and two buildings in the background, is actually much less pleasant. (Click any image in this post to enlarge it; once it opens in a new window/tab, click again to zoom in for details.)

title page woodcut (fol. A1r)

title page woodcut (fol. A1r)

The slapdash woodblock depicts a number of bodies lying on mounted wheels somewhere in the countryside. It embellishes an issue of a topical printing which was published in the shadow of the oldest newspaper of the Low Countries, the so-called Nieuwe tijdingen. We learn from the text that the picture refers to the sentencing of four conspirators against the prince of Orange, who were brought to death on February 27, 1623 in The Hague. When one starts reading the account of the public sentencing, one realizes that the illustration does not entirely fit. Four plotters were beheaded, and the trunks of their bodies were exposed on mounted wheels, whereas the heads were put on iron pins, each of them at another location outside the city walls. As was often the case with this kind of speedily produced publications, any related woodblock would serve to exert an attraction on the public of potential buyers.

woodcut of Oldenbarnevelt's beheading (fol. B4v)

woodcut of Oldenbarnevelt’s beheading (fol. B4v)

Not very many of these newspaper issues have two woodblocks, but this one does. On the very last page, the beheading of a man is depicted. He is not one of the four conspirators, but supposedly Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, who was decapitated four years earlier, on May 13, 1619, by order of Prince Maurits, who accused him of high treason. This illustration comes at the end of a second news item in that week’s newspaper, reporting the discovery of a plot against Prince Maurits devised by Oldenbarnevelt’s sons, Reinier and Willem, who wanted to avenge their father’s death. Both of them took to flight, but Reinier was caught and put to death the same way as his father about a month later, on 29 March 1623 – but at the moment this issue was published, no one could have predicted that.1

In 1619 the Antwerp printer Abraham Verhoeven started publishing a newspaper named the Nieuwe Tijdingen ( “New Tidings”). Although small publications like these, dealing with topical matter had been published before, the Nieuwe Tijdingen was the first newspaper in the Southern Netherlands which was came out with regular frequency. Over the next decade, more than 1,300 issues were published, most of them in Dutch, aiming at the local market. It was only in 1635 that other Antwerp printers tried their luck with their own dailies. Bruges followed in 1637, with a newspaper bearing the same title, and Brussels, the court city, was as late as 1649 with the Courrier véritable des Pays-Bas, later renamed as the Relations véritables.

In the years before the launch of the Nieuwe Tijdingen, Verhoeven had been publishing bulletins in small formats, and he would continue to do that alongside his newspaper. These booklets in quarto or octavo generally consist of not more than one or two gatherings. They mostly deal with political or military news, often from neighbouring and distant countries, such as England, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal or overseas territories.

The Folger preserves nine topical publications published by Verhoeven from the period 1620–1624, all of them in French. Eight of them were previously not recorded in the Short Title Catalogus Vlaanderen, the STC for Flemish books printed before 1801, nor are they included in the Bibliotheca Belgica. For five of them a Dutch-language issue of the Nieuwe Tijdingen was already known. All nine issues are in good condition; some even remain uncut.

One of them gives an account of the funeral of Archduke Albert, husband to Isabella with whom he ruled the Habsburg Netherlands from 1598 until his death in 1621:

Woodcut depicting the coat of arms of the archdukes Albrecht and Isabella (fol. A1r)

Woodcut depicting the coat of arms of the Archduke Albrecht and Isabella (fol. A1r)

Another one reports the victory of the Portuguese over a Dutch fleet trying to capture the city of Macao in June 1622:

Woodcut depicting the vying ships (fol. A1r)

Woodcut depicting the vying ships (fol. A1r)

And finally, this bulletin discusses the planned marriage between Charles, Prince of Wales (later Charles I),  and the Spanish Infanta, Maria Anna:

The intended couple (fol. A1r)

The intended couple (fol. A1r)

For religious reasons, Maria Anna of Spain refused the so-called Spanish match, very much to the delight of the British people. But these and many other topical publications from the Southern Netherlands still populate the Folger’s stacks, very much to our delight and that of our readers.

Further reading:

Bibliotheca Belgica. Bibliographie générale des Pays-Bas, Bruxelles 1964, vol. V, pp. 472–680.

T. Luykx, “De eerste gazettiers en hun kranten in de Spaanse Nederlanden”, in Handelingen van de Koninklijke Zuidnederlandse Maatschappij voor Taal- en Letterkunde en Geschiedenis 18 (1964), pp. 231–254.

A. Schouteet, “Nieuwsbladen te Brugge in de 17e eeuw”, in Handelingen van het Genootschap voor Geschiedenis gesticht onder de benaming Société d’Émulation te Brugge 99 (1962), p. 83-90.

Short Title Catalogus Vlaanderen = Short Title Catalogue Flanders (STCV). Online bibliography of hand-press books printed within the borders of nowadays Flanders: http://www.stcv.be.

L. Voet, “Abraham Verhoeven en de Antwerpse pers. Beschouwingen rond een recente tentoonstelling”, in De gulden passer 31 (1953), pp. 1–37.

  1. For a short bibliography on Reinier, see here. []

Author: Goran Proot

GORAN PROOT is Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is currently surveying layout and typography in early modern books.

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